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Things to remember about nursing

This summer, I came away from my MICU contract with a renewed understanding of why I have this love-hate relationship with nursing. And I’ve summed it up in 6 simple points so when I’m ready to pick up another contract I can remember what to expect, even if months and months of super intense child rearing washes it all out of my head.

So here goes. The love part…

  1. It’s the feeling you get after the shift that is so great. You made it. You got through this grueling, back breaking, nerve wracking day. It’s a feeling of accomplishment.
  2. It’s the social interaction. The camaraderie. There is definitely a bond there among nurses. No matter how different a fellow nurse is from you they know exactly what it is that you go through. And for many of us, you can’t say the same thing about your family, your spouse, or your best friend.
  3. Then there’s just the joy of knowing a difficult job really, really well. Being able to field any curve ball that comes your way in an extremely fast paced environment. Not to mention the fact that people could die if you don’t do the right thing. While that may sound like an enormous amount of pressure, it’s also a great source of pride to know that you can handle that.

And the hate part…

  1. Night shift – Love, love, love the people who work night shift. But I hate the fact that switching from days to nights makes me feel like a human slug.
  2. Lower back pain. No need to elaborate here.
  3. Cleaning up stool. Sorry. it sucks no matter how you slice it. Some will say “Oh it doesn’t bother me at all! You get used to it.” Bullshit. You have 2 ICU patients, each stooling 3-4 times during the night in a 12 hour shift. You do the math. That means you are potentially up to your elbows in shit Q 2 hrs. AND trying to get the rest of your work done.

I like to help people. So sue me.

You are a nurse. You are out in public, going about your business and you see a person in distress, or a situation where someone has been harmed or injured in some way.

What would you do?

I had a conversation with some fellow nurses yesterday that I found kind of surprising. Someone was cursing their husband for telling her son’s little league team that she was an ER nurse. Now the coach wanted her to volunteer to run the first aid station at some of the games.

“I never tell anyone I’m a nurse,” she says.

The other nurse agreed and said that she never wears her scrubs home when taking the subway, because she would be expected to help if something went wrong.

Now, I understand where this mentality comes form. Everyone’s afraid of liability. Everyone’s afraid of losing their license if something goes wrong.

Call me naive and idealistic, but if I saw someone in distress, or someone who had been harmed, it would take wild hungry pit bulls to keep me from helping them. You see, it’s kind of why I became a nurse in the first place. Not only is there something so infinitely rewarding about being able to help someone in a crisis situation, I also consider it to be my duty. And I may not have the type of first-line emergency skills that many ER nurses and EMTs have but I’ll tell you what I can do. I can hold pressure to stop someone from bleeding. I know BLS and if there’s an AED around I can set it up, calmly and quickly. I can hold someone’s hand, talk them through the situation and try to keep the scene calm until the EMTs get there.

And if you’re still afraid, well, there is something to protect you. It’s called The Good Samaritan Law.

I’m proud to be a nurse. Sure I may do my share of complaining about all the menial stuff, but in the end, I have pride in who I am. This is going to sound incredibly corny but when I wear my scrubs out in public, stopping to get coffee before work, or stopping at the grocery store after my shift, I hold my head up a little higher. The funny thing is that people seem to treat me with slightly more reverence when I’m in my scrubs. And I don’t mind that at all.

Am I Contributing to the Nursing Shortage?

I got this comment the other day from Trish, and I really have mixed feelings about it:

I just wanted to let you know I like your blog and you have impacted someone’s life (mine), in an unexpected way.

I’m starting college this fall after being out of school many years. I was planning on going into nursing. Deep down I suspected I would suck at being a nurse, especially when I found myself gagging while washing out my pottytraining toddler’s poopy underpants. Your blog, and this post, has pretty much confirmed my suspicions and I’m planning on doing something else now. Thanks for opening my eyes!

On the one hand, I feel bad. We need nurses and I hate to think that I’ve influenced someone to not be a nurse.

On the other hand, everything I write here is my honest and open opinion about the profession, and I write about what being a nurse really entails. And unfortunately, the further I get in this profession, the more I want out of it.

Despite that, I have no regrets as far as choosing this path, and spending the last three years (5 if you include school) being a nurse. It’s been a mind-blowing experience, one in which I’ve learned a lot about life and a lot about my self, and what I’m capable of doing.

To Trish I would say this: Do a little more thinking about what drove you to consider nursing in the first place, because there are many types of nurses that rarely come into contact with poop. (Isn’t it crazy that I’m writing a serious post about poop?) Psych nurses, community health nurses, and case managers are a few types that come to mind. And you can always try being a NICU nurse, because as @thatguynamedtom said, “the poop is so much smaller there.”

One final thought: I used to be a person who was afraid of blood, and for years I wouldn’t even dream of becoming a nurse, for fear of having to actually draw someone’s blood. I later came to find out, however, that this was simply a matter of my own vasovagal response to giving blood. Years later I found myself up to my elbows in blood amongst the GI bleeders in the MICU, and I was as far from syncope as you can get. Instead I found myself pumped up with adrenaline and exhilaration at the chance to be saving someone’s life.

Now there’s a good reason to become a nurse.

Strike Breaker?

Should nurses cover for the housekeeping and food service staff when they go on strike?

Our hospital is facing a possible strike by the service workers. In the event of a strike, the hospital is requiring the nursing staff to fill in for the services workers. That means that I am required to sign up for extra shifts (12 hours extra per week) in order to cover such duties as answering phones and housekeeping.

I think this is a bad policy for so many reasons.

First of all, it’s mandatory overtime.

Second of all, I have worked hard to become a nurse. I consider myself to be a professional. Do other professionals have to cover service workers when they strike? Respiratory therapists? Pharmacists? Physical therapists? Doctors? No, the responsibility falls exclusively on the nursing staff.

Third of all, it implies that I am taking the hospital’s side in the case of a strike. I don’t even consider myself to be pro-union, but still it seems wrong for me to have break someone else’s strike if I do not choose to do so.

Last of all, I do not want to put my health in jeopardy by having to clean hospital rooms for 12 hours. Not to sound like a wimp, but I get lower back pain just from cleaning my own bathroom. Plus there’s the minor detail of being 35 years old and 5 months pregnant.

And then there’s the question of safety – I haven’t been trained on the proper cleaning of a hospital room. This is pretty dangerous when you consider that the majority of our patients are MRSA and VRE positive.

I almost let this matter go. I had been told that the strike is unlikely to happen. But when it came time to put my schedule in, I was required to schedule 12 hours per week of overtime for the entire month of December. I thought this was rather excessive, so I started to do some research. I found the ANA’s position statement on mandatory overtime. It defines mandatory overtime as “the hours worked in excess of an agreed upon, predetermined, regularly scheduled full-time or part-time work schedule”. Therefore I have declined to schedule myself for the extra shifts, because I believe that would imply that I have agreed to work them. Tomorrow I’ll meet with my nurse manager and human resources to discuss the matter further. I’d like to see the official policy in writing, and how it was expressed to me at the time I was hired.

The strange thing is that aside from one or two of my colleagues, the nursing staff seems to be very complacent about this policy. It doesn’t seem to bother them in the least.

Of course it would be simple for me to express my dissatisfaction by finding another job. There are plenty of other hospitals in my area. The only problem is that I am halfway through my pregnancy and cannot afford to put any of my benefits in jeopardy.

So what do you all think about this? I would love to hear your feedback.